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Are the Barenaked Ladies Getting Serious?

By ALAN SCULLEY,, August 16th, 2001.

With the release of their sixth major label CD, "Maroon," many critics are saying this is the album where the Barenaked Ladies have gotten serious about their songwriting.

Guitarist-singer Ed Robertson will allow that "Maroon" may be a bit darker than his group's previous CDs. But as much as the Barenaked Ladies have always been known for the humor in songs like "Be My Yoko Ono" or "If I Had $1,000,000" and the goofiness that frequently erupts during their concerts, Robertson feels there's always been a blatantly serious aspect to the group.

"That side of the band has always been there, but people don't see it," Robertson said. "It's not right on the surface. And a lot of times our shows are pretty zany and the videos are bright and loud and colorful, and that is certainly a big part of who we are. But for the 10 years that we've been recording, we've also been writing more serious and mature songs."

Chances are even the casual listener to "Maroon" will have a hard time missing the weighty situations and themes that weave their way through the CD.

Two examples are the recent single, "Pinch Me," which finds the song's character grappling with the boredom in his life, unable to pursue any of the big ambitions he might have as he sleepwalks through his daily existence.

Even more ominous is the CD's closing track, "Tonight Is The Night That I Fell Asleep At The Wheel." Not only does the song vividly depict the carnage of a serious auto accident, but it uses this desperate setting as a moment when the driver reflects on how indifferent he feels toward the woman in his life.

The darker and more personal tone of "Maroon" partly reflects the events that have surrounded Robertson, Page and bandmates Jim Creeggan (bass), Tyler Stewart (drums) and Kevin Hearn (keyboards) over the past two years.

On the one hand, the Barenaked Ladies enjoyed a commercial breakthrough in the United States when their 1998 CD, "Stunt," sold more than four million copies and produced their first stateside No. 1 hit single, "One Week."

But the band also dealt with seeing Hearn battle leukemia. After two years, which included cancer treatments and a bone marrow transplant, Hearn's cancer is in remission and he's again working with the band full time.

"It's been a pretty heavy couple of years for us," Robertson said. "The success of 'Stunt' was quite a shakeup for all of us. That incredible rush of excitement and attention was tempered quite drastically with Kevin's illness.

So it was quite a bittersweet success."

With "Maroon," the Barenaked Ladies live up to the expectations created by the success of "Stunt." Like that previous CD, "Maroon" includes several crisp and catchy rockers ("Too Little Too Late," "Go Home" and "The Humour Of The Situation") that compare favorably to "One Week." Such songs are balanced by the elegant mid-tempo pop of "Helicopters," the offbeat balladry of "Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel" and the Broadway-esque bluster of "Sell Sell Sell."

The breakthrough with "Stunt" capped a decade-long run for a band that had quickly scored major success in Canada with their 1992 major label debut, "Gordon," but saw that CD and the next two albums, "Maybe You Should Drive" (1994) and "Born On A Pirate Ship" (1996), make little impact in the states before the 1997 live CD, "Rock Spectacle," began to connect and set the stage for the major success of "Stunt."

For some bands, the popularity would bring added pressure. But according to Robertson, for the Barenaked Ladies, it brought comfort.

"Honestly, the success of 'Stunt' gave me a confidence and kind of a relief," Robertson said. "We just made a record and it was really well accepted. We didn't crusade for the golden chalice and rewrite the formula of the band. We just made the best record we could and it did well. That for me just boded well for the future. It was like 'Well, we made a Barenaked Ladies record and people like it. If we keep making good Barenaked Ladies records then they should do well, too."